December 1974. I was back home in Gorleston from university for the festive period. It certainly was not tourist season on the Broads as a lone cabin cruiser crept out of the boatyard in Loddon. The steamy, gossamer exhaust from the chugging diesel barely noticeable in the early-morning mist. One of the business interests of the inamorata-of-the-time's family was a small cruiser rental company and, with December not noted for its scorching hot weather in Norfolk, there were a few vessels spare. OK, all of them were spare.
As Fetid Flatulence, or perhaps it was Balmy Breeze - all the boats were named after wind of some sort - made her way out of the boatyard the plan was to pootle ten miles along the Chet, into the River Yare, on to the Berney Arms then turn around, pootle the ten miles back again and see what we could see. Herons, grebes, bitterns, whatever was about. One thing I was wondering whether we might spot was a coypu. Having recently done a little study comparing the digestive enzymes in different rodents, one of which was a recently deceased example of these South American beasts, I was quite interested to see one in the wild, even though it would have meant reporting the sighting to the authorities.
Coypu? What's a coypu? For those of you unaware of what a coypu is, this is a coypu.
With adults weighing-in around 7kg these are no cute little guinea pigs. Introduced to fur farms in the 1920s and '30s, escapees soon found their way into Norfolk's river system and set about doing what their rodent cousin the rabbit is famed for, with a similar success rate. They also had a predilection for destroying crops, digging into river banks and gnawing anything wooden. The result was collapsed yields, collapsed river banks, collapsed piling, collapsed footbridges... Everything collapsed, except for the coypu population. A trapping programme was introduced in the early 1960s and along with the assistance of the cold winter of 1962/3 the population size was reduced, with the final furry fiend being eliminated in 1989.
After about two and a half hours we came to the Berney Arms Windmill. Built by Stolworthy millwrights in 1865, replacing an earlier tower mill which had been on the site from at least 1797, it first earned its living by grinding cement clinker for the Reedham Cement Company before being converted to serve a drainage function. It retired in 1948 when it was superseded by electric lift pumps.
Just beyond the mill was the Berney Arms pub which used to serve the small community which grew up around the cement works as well as the odd marshman and reed cutter. Although marked on Bryant's 1826 map, along with nearby kilns, the first occupant of it that I've managed to track down is Robert Rushmer who is listed as an innkeeper in Reedham in the 1841 census. It took a little bit of patience and a process of elimination to determine this as none of the hostelries are named.
Leased from the Berney family, the pub continued to trade under the banner of Norwich brewers Steward & Patteson until 1909 when three customers drowned whilst attempting to cross from the pub to Burgh Castle on the opposite side of the river. As a result the pub's license was not renewed and it closed on October 11th. The landlord at the time, John Andrews, had moved to the Nelson's Head in Horsey by the time of the 1911 census, a pub which is still operating today.
The Berney Arms remained closed until the mid 1950s when it reopened and, with a full license and its riverside moorings, became a popular stopping-off point for the growing number post-war water-borne holidaymakers.
No chance of us stopping for a lunchtime pint though. The Berney was a very seasonal opener. I remember, even as a young schoolboy, the annual report on the local TV news of its first beer delivery of the year being made by boat. It was an indication of the arrival of spring. And yes, it did come by boat. The pub had to have been one of the most remote in the country, with access being by foot, rail or water. That's right, no road access. I'm pretty certain that in those days it served Greene King, as it did in 2000 when Andy Barton visited.
In later years brews from Woodforde's were offered but with no chance of a pint of Wherry, or even at the time one of Abbot, we turned the boat around and headed back upstream. Not far beyond the mouth of the Haddiscoe Cut we passed Reedham's riverside pubs. Firstly the Ship, followed closely by the Lord Nelson. Sunday lunchtime clientele were beginning to arrive in their cars but we chugged on and it wasn't long before the third of the still-surviving boozers, the Reedham Ferry Inn, was behind us.
As we nosed our way back into the marina there were still a few wisps of mist hanging over the reeds and the odd patch of frost in the shadier parts of the yard. No pint in the Berney Arms and neither did we manage one in the Highlands as we arrived back in Gorleston too late. Don't forget that opening hours at Sunday lunchtime were limited to 12.00-2.00 in those days. I'm pretty certain that I went in the evening though. Most evenings back home were spent in the Highlands.
I vowed to return to the Berney Arms the following summer. Like so many of the promises made by teenagers it wasn't kept. The closest I managed was a couple of trips past on the train on journeys between Yarmouth and Norwich. Now, like the coypu, the pub is no longer part of Broadland life. The loss of the former is probably something to celebrate, but not the latter.
The Berney Arms closed in October 2014 and whilst I believe it has been operating as a seasonal café from time to time I'm pretty sure that that it now qualifies as a bygone boozer. I hope not, but the latest attempt to get the place relicensed failed in the summer. It was reading about it here that prompted me to pen this piece. Hopefully, like the Cat & Fiddle, it'll re-open someday, but I have my doubts. I'm left wondering just who would be disturbed by any noise.
The Broadland Memories site has some more pictures of and info about the pub, along with some nice descriptions of it from early last century. "...a quaint, cheerless alehouse, that draws more than half a barrel a fortnight, and supplies any who ask for them with a jug of coffee and rich, sweet cheese and bread, or allows the visitor to munch his own refreshments..." in a post about walking a stretch of the Wherryman's Way from Berney Arms to Reedham which you can find here.
Uncredited photographs are © Andrew Barton and are used with permission. He has a nice little site on the Berney Arms area which can be reached by clicking here, as well as another with a section on the pubs, past and present, of Dursley in Gloucestershire
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